[Sust-mar] Report on the Agriculture and Rural Life Conference (cont.)

IBS ibs_pei at yahoo.com
Mon Sep 11 12:03:52 EDT 2006

Report on the Agriculture and Rural Life Conference
Mabou, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
July 19-20

Excerpts from the keynote address of John Ikerd,
‘Sustaining the Common Wealth of Rural People and Places.’

The indigenous people and the European settlers of North America lived in rural areas to realize the inherent value of natural resources located in rural areas.  However, most rural communities today are the remnants of farming communities.

As agriculture has adopted the industrial strategies of specialization, standardization, and consolidation of control – agricultural productivity has increased dramatically, but rural communities have been left in decline and decay – used up, farmed out.

Once thriving rural communities have withered and died as farm families have been forced off the land by chronic production surpluses that have depressed prices for the things they sell, as costs have risen relentlessly for the things farmers must buy. 

When we consider the historic purpose of rural communities, we begin to understand that the increases in unemployment, poverty, and public dependency in rural areas are all symptoms of the continued extraction of economic wealth from rural areas. 

It is intuitively obvious that the continued extraction and exploitation of rural resources quite simply is not sustainable.  

Farmers, consumers, rural leaders, and policy makers at all levels of government need to understand why it is critically important to sustain the wealth of rural people and places, not only for individuals but also for society as a whole.

The hope for the future of rural areas in restoring the health and vitality of the living things in rural communities – the wealth in the land and people of rural places. Sustainable economic and community development must mimic the processes of living, biological systems. A sustainable society clearly must be built upon the foundation of a self-renewing, regenerative, sustainable agriculture because to sustain life we must sustain food production.
Sustainable farms must be ecologically sound, socially responsible, and economically viable. A farm that degrades the productivity of the land or pollutes its natural environment cannot sustain its productivity. A farm that fails to meet the needs of a society – not only as consumers, but also as producers and citizens – cannot be sustained over time by that society. And, a farm that is not financially viable is not sustainable, no matter how ecologically and socially sound it may seem to be in the short run. Sustainable agriculture is the only known means of sustaining human society.

While the forces of industrialization are strong, the forces of sustainability are even more powerful. The forces now pulling farmers toward sustainability are the unrelenting forces of human nature. We saw these powerful forces reconnecting people with the land in the growing popularity of organic farming, but we now see them even more clearly in the movement beyond organics to sustainably and locally grown foods. People are being drawn toward reconnecting with farmers, toward community-based food systems, by the natural attraction of human relationships.

Increasingly, consumers want to know where their food comes from, how it is produced, and who produced it. Local is becoming the new organic, as more people want food they can trust produced by someone they know and trust. 

Sustainable farmers today have an opportunity to help create a new food production and marketing mainstream by giving these like-minded customers foods that reflect their shared values. Sustainable farmers continue to find new allies as more independent food processors, distributors, and retailers realize they face the same kinds of challenges and have the same kinds of opportunities as do independent family farmers.

Today, the sustainable/local movement stands at a critical stage of its development. If sustainable farmers can successfully restore the integrity of relationships with their customers through these higher-volume markets, they will have created a sustainable ecological and social foundation for long-run rural economic development. They will be able to sustain the natural and social wealth of rural people and rural places. Rural people again will have a purpose for living and working in rural places. It’s too early to predict success, but neither is it logical to expect failure. 

Regardless of out ultimate response to the challenges of sustainability, we simply cannot continue doing what we have been doing to rural areas. Industrial economic development quite simply is not sustainable because its productivity relies on extraction and exploitation; it does nothing to renew or regenerate either the natural or human resources that must sustain the future of humanity. Industrialization inevitably tends toward entropy. 

As farmers build trusting, caring relationships with their customers and their neighbors, they are working against the forces of industrialization, but they are working with the irresistible urge of people to find ways to reconnect with each other, both within and across generations. As we find ways to sustain the common wealth of rural people and rural places, we are finding ways to sustain humanity.

For a complete transcript of John Ikerd’s keynote address write to: jeikerd at centurytel.net
or contact the PEI ADAPT Council office at: adapt at pei.aibn.com or phone (902) 368-2005
or 1-800-561-5433.

An excellent, simple to read, new resource book which supports the understanding and direction of most participants at the conference: 
‘Micro-Eco-Farming: Prospering from Backyard to Small Acreage In Partnership with the Earth,” by Barbara Berst Adams; New World Publishing

Also See: Alternative Farming Systems Information Centre; USDA http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/agnic/agnic.htm
Phil Ferraro and Nancy WillisInstitute for Bioregional Studies Ltd.
114 Upper Prince Street, Charlottetown 
Prince Edward Island Canada  C1A 4S3
Permaculture, Community Development, and Leadership Training

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